Page images

persons. Though trained to courts, they had ever a taste for a country life. Though accustomed in those days to the tables of princes, they sat freely down at the poor man's board. Though welcomed by the peer, they showed no signs of superciliousness when they found themselves cheek-by-jowl with the pauper. Nay, they appear even to have preferred the less exalted society, and to have felt themselves more at ease in the country mansion of the private gentleman than in the halls of kings. Their reception in those high places was accompanied, as royal receptions are apt to be, by a degree of state repugnant to their frank natures; and they seem never to have been so happy as when they found themselves amongst a set of free and easy spirits, whether in town or country,-unrestrained by the punctilios of etiquette,-who had the privilege of laughing just when it struck them to do so, without inquiring wherefore, or caring how loud.

"Then what a festival they created! The land rang with their joyous voices; and the frosty air steamed with the incense of the good things provided for their entertainment. Everybody kept holiday but the cooks; and all sounds known to the human ear seemed mingled in the merry pæan, save the gobble of the turkeys. There were no turkeys-at least they had lost their most sweet voices.' The turnspits had a hard time of it too. That quaint little book which bears the warm and promising title of 'Round about our Coal Fire,' tells us that by the time dinner was over, they would look as black and as greasy as a Welsh porridge-pot.' There is a ballad opens like the ringing of a dinner-bell, and, we conceive, should be sung to some such accompaniment.

[ocr errors]

• All you that to feasting and mirth are inclined,
Come, here is good news for to pleasure your mind:
Old Christmas is come for to keep open house-

He scorns to be guilty of starving a mouse.

Then come, boys, and welcome, for diet the chief,

Plum-pudding, goose, capon, minced-pies, and roast-beef.'

"Diet the chief!' by which we are to understand that this promising muster-roll merely includes the names of some of the principal viands-the high commissioned dishes of the feast; leaving the subalterns, and the entire rank and file which complete the goodly array, unmentioned. The ballad is long, and we can only afford to give our readers its good things.

'tastings' of

The cooks shall be busied, by day and by night,
In roasting and boiling, for taste and delight;
Their senses in liquor that 's nappy they'll steep,
Though they be afforded to have little sleep;
They still are employ'd for to dress us, in brief,
Plum-pudding, goose, capon, minced-pies, and roast-beef.

Although the cold weather doth hunger provoke,
"Tis a comfort to see how the chimneys do smoke :
Provision is making for beer, ale, and wine,

For all that are willing or ready to dine.
Then haste to the kitchen, for diet the chief,-
Plum-pudding, goose, capon, minced-pies, and roast-beef.

All travellers, as they do pass on their way,
At gentlemen's halls are invited to stay,
Themselves to refresh and their horses to rest,
Since that he must be old Christmas's guest :

Nay, the poor shall not want, but have for relief,

Plum-pudding, goose, capon, minced-pies, and roast-beef.'

[ocr errors]

And so on, through a variety of joyous and substantial anticipations; from which the writer draws an inference, which we think is most satisfactorily made out :

"Then well may we welcome old Christmas to town,
Who brings us good cheer, and good liquor so brown:
To pass the cold winter away with delight,

We feast it all day, and we frolick all night.'

[ocr errors]

"In Ellis's edition of Brand's Popular Antiquities,' an old Christmas song is quoted from 'Poor Robin's Almanack' for

1695, which gives a similar enumeration of Christmas dainties; but throws them into a form calculated for more rapid enumeration, as if with a due regard to the value of those moments at which it was probably usual to sing it. It comes trippingly off the tongue; and it is not impossible that, in those days of skilful gastronomy, it might have been sung eating. We quote a couple of the verses.

'Now thrice welcome, Christmas,

Which brings us good cheer,
Minced-pies and plum-porridge,
Good ale and strong beer,
With pig, goose, and capon,
The best that may be-
So well doth the weather
And our stomachs agree.

Observe how the chimneys
Do smoke all about;
The cooks are providing
For dinner, no doubt;
But those on whose tables

No victuals appear,
O may they keep Lent

All the rest of the year!""

Book of Christmas.


"It is now complete winter," says Leigh Hunt. vapourish and cloudy atmosphere wraps us about with dimness and chilliness; the reptiles and other creatures that sleep or hide during the cold weather have all retired to their winter quarters; the fields are too damp and miry to pass, except in sudden frosts, which begin to occur at the end of the month; and the trees look but like skeletons of what they were

'Bare ruin'd choirs in which the sweet birds sang.'

"The evergreens and winter flowers are like real friends, who, whatever be their peculiar disposition, whether serious or

gay, will never forsake us. Even roses, with which we are so apt to associate summer weather, flourish from May to December inclusive, and during the winter months will live and prosper in apartments. We need never be without them from the first day of the year to the last; and thus to the numerous comparisons made between roses and the fair sex may be added this new one, as complimentary to their friendship as it is true."

"December," says Verstegan, 66 I was called Winter-month; but after the Saxons received Christianity, they then, out of devotion to the birth-time of Christ, called it Holy-month."

Sturm, in his "Reflections," says, "It is wrong to suppose that winter is generally destructive to plants and trees. So far from it, there can be no doubt that the variations of temperature contribute materially to the growth and propagation of vegetables. In very warm climates there are immense deserts that would be much more sterile if cold did not sometimes succeed the burning heats. And winter, far from being prejudicial to the earth's fertility, promotes it. There are plants which thrive in the coldest countries, notwithstanding the ice and snow. Many trees, as firs, pines, junipers, cedars, the larch, and the box, flourish in winter, as in other seasons. There are even some flowers that spring up under the snow. We are informed by botanists, that the plants of the frigid zone, being placed in greenhouses, could not bear a higher degree of heat than thirty-eight degrees.

"In the immense garden of Nature there is no soil entirely barren. From the finest dust to the hardest rock-from the tropics to the frozen regions of the poles, there is no soil which does not produce plants peculiar to it, and no season is entirely destitute of these beautiful productions of Nature, fruits or flowers continuing all the year round.

"The farther our researches penetrate into the works of Nature, the more the goodness and wisdom which has created

all, and governs all, is manifested. The tempests, the frost, and the snow, and all the phenomena peculiar to this season which can be considered as disagreeable, are linked together in the eternal order of things, each having its season and appointed time, and all contributing to the general harmony of the universe. The wind that affrights the mariner upon the ocean, drives water upon dry lands. The sulphurous vapours, salt, and other matters, carried by the wind from one country to another, revive the earth, and restore fertility to the fields which have been exhausted by their frequent crops. Thus winter, apparently so destructive, enables our meadows again to yield us rich fruit: the fields, the gardens, and the seeds now repose beneath ice and snow.

"Winter does not materially interrupt trade or commerce; for though we are obliged to suspend the labours of the field, there are various other ways in which we may be usefully employed. The repose of Nature invites us to look for resources in our own minds; and though our imagination cannot now be warmed with the beauties of Nature in their spring and summer robes, our mind, no longer attracted by external charms, will be at leisure to look back upon the images it has formerly perceived and made its own."

We conclude the work with the following beautiful poem by Alfred Tennyson :



"Full knee-deep lies the winter snow,
And the winter winds are wearily sighing :
Toll ye the church-bell sad and slow,

And tread softly and speak low,

For the old year lies a-dying.

Old Year, you must not die.
You came to us so readily,
You lived with us so steadily,
Old Year, you shall not die.

« PreviousContinue »